By Stephanie Ila Silver-Silberstein
You might think that there’s always something to do with your kids in New York City and to some extent that is true. And yet, for one reason or another, there are plenty of times when that “what to do” question mark looms over your head and even one hour of unscheduled time can send you into a panic. So before you reach for the television remote or the cookie jar, consider the pros and cons of these different options.
You just had your first child and you’re about to re-enter society. But meeting fellow new moms can feel vaguely reminiscent of your single days on the bar scene when guys would try out their best pick up lines and plan elaborate first dates in hopes that there would be a second. Now it’s your turn to put yourself out there, make new friends and plan (play) dates not only for your child, but yourself as well. Playdates are great in that they cost virtually nothing (maybe a box of cookies at most), they provide you some quality adult-time with women who instantly share a common ground and they introduce your child to potential life-long friends. Granted, babies and even toddlers usually parallel play for the most part but such socialization can be beneficial early in a child’s life. And while space is sometimes limited in New York City abodes, apartment playdates provide a childproofed environment, complete with new and thus interesting toys and away from bugs, dirt and harmful sunrays. Sure, you may have to stop your conversation to repeat the word, “share” 500 times and sure, you may have to endure annoying topics and questions like, “when did your child reach that milestone?” but it’s all worth it. The only challenge with playdates is actually getting them on the calendar. With nap schedules, babysitters, sickness and travel getting in the way, setting up regular playdates can be tricky business. Depending on them to fill your social calendar can often leave both you and your child disappointed and frustrated when they get cancelled at the last minute. But hey, that’s what backup plans are for! Speaking of….
If you live in a child-friendly neighborhood (and let’s face it – most residential neighborhoods throughout New York City are busting at the seams with kids these days), finding a mommy and me class is rather easy. Deciding on which one to take is usually the biggest headache. From Three Little Birds to Jodi’s Gym, from the nationally known Gymboree to the Manhattan-born Music for Aardvarks there is a long list of unique classes you and your little one can enjoy. Truth be told, your child might not appreciate the subtle nuances differentiating one music or gym class from the other, nor will he jump for joy when he gets into Free to Be Under Three off the waitlist, but classes do have their benefits. It’s actually worth paying almost $1 a minute to keep your child entertained for a guaranteed 45 minutes each week and if you’re entertained as well, all the better! It’s unfortunate when you’re the only mom in a class of nannies and it’s annoying when your child keeps getting sick throughout most of the semester or crawling for the door 42 of the 45 minutes. But there is something to be said for being around adults, some of who could become good friends (or at the very least good post-class lunch dates). It’s also possible certain classes can instill in your baby a love of music or provide an active toddler with a much-needed physical outlet (in a temperature-controlled setting to boot). And not all classes will have you dipping into your child’s college fund. The 92nd Street Y and Child’s Play NYC offer hour and a half-long classes at reasonable prices, and you can take advantage of open playtime and discounts at places like Gymboree and Kidville. Classes can also help you branch out and explore different neighborhoods – all it takes is one phone call to set up a free trial class somewhere new.
New York City is a huge playground unto itself. And within that 5-borough-long playground are many smaller playgrounds, perfect for tons of outdoor play for your little ones. Even in the dead of winter, urban mommies and nannies will fight the elements, bundle up their babies, get out of their cooped up apartments and trek on out to the parks to get some much needed fresh air. Even in a city of skyscrapers, at least once every 15 blocks, you’ll find a jungle gym, basketball court or some sort of grassy knoll to set up your picnic blanket. Of course, you’ll have to contend with children of all ages trampling over your one-year-old taking her first steps. And sure, you might have to follow your newly walking toddler onto the big-boy jungle gym he insists on tackling despite your protestations. But all in all, the smile on your child’s face is worth it. Most of the time. I once had a homeless man offer to help me get my tantrum-ing 20-month old into his stroller in the pouring rain when I was 8 months pregnant – my son wanted to stay so badly. And while the water sprinklers are a relief in the hot summer months, my friend’s barefoot son got a splinter so big he ended up in the emergency room; and yet, the parks of New York City can truly be a godsend. They’re pretty much always open, they’re pretty much never empty, they kill a lot of time and most importantly, they provide the perfect backdrop to many wonderful memories.
It goes without saying that quality time with your child is what really counts and chances are your precious little one doesn’t care what she’s doing – as long she’s with you. But it’s nice to know your options when you’re stuck singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” for the ten-thousandth time…that day.